Jeffrey Engel, Tower Center, we need a middle-class president

CNN.com

(CNN)There seem to be two prerequisites for the modern U.S. presidency.

1. Being fabulously rich.

2. Successfully pretending you’re not.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tried his hand at No. 2 last week as he announced his bid for the White House. With his back awkwardly turned to the TV cameras, and a drive-through-worker style microphone clipped to his ear, Cruz relayed a version of his life story, often in third person, to a student crowd at Liberty University in Virginia.

“Imagine another teenage boy being raised in Houston … experiencing challenges at home … heading off to school over 1,000 miles away from home in a place where he knew nobody. Where he was alone and scared. And his parents going through bankruptcy meant there was no financial support at home — so at the age of 17 he went to get two jobs to help pay his way through school. He took over $100,000 in school loans, loans I suspect a lot of y’all can relate to. Loans, that I’ll point out, I just paid off a few years ago.”

Poor Cruz.

All those loans.

Good thing he’s estimated to be worth $1.8 million to $3.5 million.

And he’s not the wealthiest person whose name has been thrown into the hat as a potential candidate for 2016, according to estimates compiled by Crowdpac, a nonpartisan website that aggregates stats about potential political candidates.

Crowdpac estimates Hillary Clinton’s net worth to be $21.5 million (more if you include Bill). Jeb Bush’s: $10 million. Even Elizabeth Warren, enemy of Wall Street, champion of populist financial-sector reform, is estimated to be worth $3.7 million to $10 million, according to CNN Money. READ MORE

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SMU professor examines life of prolific African-American author

TCU 360

Originally Posted: March 29, 2015

William Wells Brown was born into slavery, escaped to London and became the first African-American to publish a novel.

An SMU professor visited campus Thursday to discuss the life, travels and cultural significance of one of the most important authors in American history.

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William Wells Brown is considered one of the most significant writers of African-American history, but he was a runaway slave for a large period of his life.

Dr. Ezra Greenspan, an SMU professor in the English department, is an expert on the life of Brown and the author of the biography “William Wells Brown: An African-American Life.” Greenspan talked about Brown with graduate and doctoral students in English. READ MORE

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Jill Kelly, History, includes her signature to an open letter criticizing 60 Minutes reporting on Africa

Al Jazeera

Originally Posted: March 26, 2015

Dear Jeff Fager, executive producer of CBS’ “60 Minutes,”

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our grave concern about the frequent and recurring misrepresentation of the African continent by “60 Minutes.”

In a series of recent segments from the continent, “60 Minutes” has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible.

Two of these segments were remarkably similar in their basic subject matter, featuring white people who have made it their mission to rescue African wildlife. In one case these were lions, and in another, apes. People of black African descent make no substantial appearance in either of these reports, and no sense whatsoever is given of the countries visited, South Africa and Gabon. READ MORE

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SMU Geothermal Lab is hosting 7th international energy conference and workshop

SMU Geothermal Lab is hosting Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields

May 18-20, 2015 on the SMU Campus in Dallas, Texas.

Over 200 individuals in field operations, project development, technology, finance, engineering and resource assessment from the geothermal, oil, gas and renewable energy sectors are expected to attend.

The conference goal is to connect attendees with the knowledge, technical expertise and equipment options they need to successfully transition an existing oil or gas field into an electricity-generating system. To that end, speaker presentations are delivered as a plenary session with several breaks designed for networking.

Topics of discussion include power generation from flare gas, waste-heat and geothermal fluids, along with research updates on induced seismicity, onshore and offshore thermal maturation, Play Fairway Analysis and basin modeling. SMU researchers will present results from their Fall 2014 Eastern North American Margin Community Seismic Experiment (ENAM CSE) research. In addition, equipment such as one-well systems, desalination and other new technologies will be explored. Registration is open.

Check out the list of speakers and poster presentations.

For more information: http://www.smu.edu/Dedman/Academics/Programs/GeothermalLab/Conference

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Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald, Psychology, virtual training helps assertiveness

SMU Daily Campus

Originally Posted: March 24, 2015

You’re in the car with a guy you’ve been dating for three weeks. It’s dark out, rain beats down on your window and lightning flashes in the distance. He’s ready to take your relationship to the next level, but you want to wait. He says that if you don’t have sex with him, he’ll break up with you, kick you out of the car and tell everyone that you slept with him anyway. Then, he gets aggressive. This particular situation might seem frightening, but it’s all part of a virtual reality training program.

This scene is one of many from a new SMU sexual harassment training program that has the potential to change how sexual violence prevention is handled. A study piloted by SMU’s psychology department, called “My Voice, My Choice,” found that teenage girls were less likely to report sexual victimization after participating in assertive resistance training in a virtual reality environment. The effects continued over a three-month period after the training.

Colton Donica, an SMU senior who assisted as an actor in the program, described a range of sexually coercive situations, including the one above, which program participants are exposed to. READ MORE

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Tim Cassedy Receives NEH Grant for Ambitious Study

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                            
March 24, 2015

Once completed, Dr. Cassedy’s project will be “essential reading for anyone
in early American studies.”

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Dallas (SMU) – Dr. Tim Cassedy, assistant professor of English, has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for his study of linguistic consciousness and awareness among English speakers from 1775 to 1825. Cassedy is one of the 233 prestigious humanities projects receiving the reported $17.9 million in awards and offers made by the NEH in December.

“It is my great pleasure to announce the latest round of NEH grant awards,” said NEH Chairman William Adams. “NEH grants play a critical role in making the insights afforded by the humanities available to all to help us better understand ourselves, our culture, our society.”

Cassedy’s project argues that English speakers had strong opinions about language and believed that a person’s accent and vocabulary revealed his or her true character. At times, Americans even thought of themselves as English speakers first and American citizens second — part of what Cassedy describes as “a forgotten turning point in the history of Western identity.”

Cassedy recounts an incident in which an elderly farmer, asleep in his bed in Connecticut in 1788, suddenly cried out in the middle of the night: “Why do C-O-U-G-H stand for K-O-F?” Cassedy’s book is about a time when language problems seemed so urgent that they tormented people in their dreams.

Rave reviews from NEH panelists regarding Dr. Cassedy’s project:

“Cassedy proposes an ambitious project which, when completed, will be essential reading for anyone in early American studies. This is just the sort of project to which the NEH should lend its full support.”

“The book concerns a broad, hitherto under-examined and inadequately theorized subject which will make a significant contribution to the humanities.”

“It is a very strong and promising project, using fascinating sources and bringing an equally fascinating diversity of theoretical knowledge to bear. The argument itself is also likely to be significant in understanding the rhetoric of a period that did much to bring the modern world into being.”

READ THE FULL NEH PRESS RELEASE

READ MORE ABOUT TIM CASSEDY

ABOUT DEDMAN COLLEGE OF HUMANITIES AND SCIENCES

Named in 1981 after SMU alumni Robert H. Dedman Sr. and his wife, Nancy McMillan Dedman, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences is the oldest and largest academic unit at SMU. Students in Dedman College have the advantage of exploring more than 38 undergraduate majors, 56 minors, 17 master’s programs and 14 doctoral degrees offered in 16 academic departments spanning the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics, statistics and interdisciplinary studies. Smu.edu/dedman

ABOUT THE NEH

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov

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The best books in Texas: Texas Institute of Letters finalists named

Congratulations to Ezra Greenspan, a finalist for the Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Non-fiction and two SMU history PhD alumni, Ramirez Award and Alicia M. Dewey, both finalists for the Texas Institute of Letters most scholarly book. READ MORE

Dallas Morning News
Originally Posted: March 24, 2015
By: Michael Merschel

The venerable Texas Institute of Letters has named finalists for its annual awards, which honor the state’s best writing.

Fiction finalists are Elizabeth Crook, for Monday, Monday; Manuel Luis Martinez, for Los Duros; and Smith Henderson, for Fourth of July Creek.

In nonfiction, it’s Michael Morton, for Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace; Southern Methodist University’s Ezra Greenspan, for William Wells Brown: An African American Life; and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, for Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine.

The finalists for best debut fiction are local writer Merritt Tierce, for Love Me Back; Joe Holley, for The Purse Bearer; and Ralph Compton, for Comanche Trail.

And as previously announced, the TIL will present its prestigious Lon Tinkle Award, “for an outstanding career in letters that has brought honor to the state,” to Lawrence Wright.

Winners will be named April 11 in Houston at the annual meeting for the TIL, which is marking its 79th year. Here’s the complete list of nominees and prizes:

Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction ($6,000)

Elizabeth Crook, Monday, Monday; Manuel Luis Martinez, Los Duros; Smith Henderson, Fourth of July Creek.

Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction ($1,000)

Merritt Tierce, Love Me Back; Joe Holley, The Purse Bearer; Ralph Compton, Comanche Trail.

Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Non-fiction ($5,000)

Michael Morton, Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace; Ezra Greenspan, William Wells Brown: An African American Life; Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Dr.Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine.

Ramirez Award for Most Significant Scholarly Book ($2,500)

Lawrence T. Jones, III, Lens on the Texas Frontier; Houston Faust Mount II, Oil Field Revolutionary; Alicia M. Dewey, Pesos and Dollars.

Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for Best Book of Poetry ($1,200)

Katherine Hoerth, Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots; Jan Seale,The Parkinson Poems; Carmen Tafolla, This River Here: Poems of San Antonio.

Bob Bush Memorial Award For First Book Of Poetry ($1,000)

Chloe Honum, The Tulip-Flame; Ben Olguin, Red Leather Gloves; Gayle Laudrun, Reaching for Air.

Edwin “Bud” Shrake Award for Short Nonfiction ($1,000)

Pamela Colloff, “The Witness” in Texas Monthly (Sept. 2014); Alan Peppard, “Islands of the Oil Kings” in The Dallas Morning News (Dec 7, 14, and 21); Michael Hall, “The Murders at the Lake” in Texas Monthly (April 2014).

Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story ($1,000)

Brian Van Reet, “Eat the Spoil;” Paul Christensen, “The Man Next Door;” Andrew Geyer, “Fingers.”

Denton Record-Chronicle Best Children’s Picture Book ($500)

Pat Mora, I Pledge Allegiance; Arun Ghandi and Bethany Hegedus, Grandfather Ghandi; J.L.Powers, Colors of the Wind.

H-E-B/Jean Flynn Best Children’s Book ($500)

Nikki Loftin, Nightingale’s Nest; Naomi Shihab Nye, Turtle of Oman; Greg Leitich Smith, Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn.

H-E-B Best Young Adults Book ($500)

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Pig Park; Katherine Howe, Conversion

Fred Whitehead Award for Best Design of a Trade Book ($750)

Bill Wittliff, The Devil’s Backbone Illustrated by Jack Unruh; Zeque Penya, GABI, A Girl in Pieces, design by Isabel Quintero

Fans of the TIL might also want to peruse last summer’s Texas Classics series of excerpts from past Lon Tinkle winners. which featured this profile of the legendary editor.

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New courses help students shape ethical dialogue in variety of fields

DALLAS (SMU) – Nine new courses to be taught at SMU beginning this fall aim to address real-world ethical challenges from the political science realm to the video game industry.

With $128,000 in grants from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, many of the 25 faculty members who developed the courses or have sponsored ethics-focused research grants gathered March 19-22 in Taos for a ethics course development and writing workshop.

“We have long felt that professors are among the most influential people in a student’s college life. If their professors write about, talk about and teach ethics, students will see ethics as important and worthy of attention,” says Maguire Center Director Rita Kirk.

The grants are part of a half-million dollar, five-year incentive award offered by the Maguire Center to professors for course development and research publishing. (For recipients, see below.)

SMU Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson says his course “Ethics of Revolution and Civil Disobedience” will reflect current political issues students see in everyday life.

“Ethical-issues discussions surrounding resistance to the state are especially timely, given the current debates over conscientious objections to vaccination, the Obamacare contraception funding mandate and same-sex marriage,” he says.

“As our society continues to become more and more diverse in its mix of religious and philosophical beliefs, a growing number of Americans will find that they have significant moral objections to some aspect of government policy,” Wilson says. “When are they duty-bound to subordinate their own consciences and obey, and when are they ethically permitted, or even obligated, to resist? That’s the core question this class will explore.”

SMU Religious Studies Professor G. William Barnard will guide students through the complexities of world religions “to more consciously articulate and address difficult moral issues within the matrix of their own lives,” he says. READ MORE

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A new senior-level Sociology course focuses on teaching and letting students practice advanced methods of research

Class members visited the Dallas City Archives in March, and city archivist John Slate, in order to learn about available documents for the class study of the availability of food in the West Dallas community.

SOCI Advanced Methods class at City of Dallas Archives, March 2015Pictured are (l to r) front: Mr. John Slate, Nicole Parmenter, Meagan Mulry, Aubrey Richardson, Kathleen Batman, Lily Morey, Ronnell Sims, MJ Padgett, Hannah Beltran. Back: Kris Weeks, Seaver Myers, Kristen Yule, Maddie Lozano, Zac Turner. Professor Nancy Campbell not pictured.

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Cal Jillson, Political Science: Pre-K efforts at Capitol a test for governor, lawmakers

Times Record News

By: Mathew Waller

AUSTIN — Children ran in circles in the bright gym. They sat pointing at pictures and words in books at the library. And they typed at computers in a screen-filled classroom.

“The slide game!” one child shouted, asked about a favorite education computer program.

“Thinking skills,” said another.

The 240 children, many kindergarten-age, attend the Abacus School of Austin — which offers full-day prekindergarten classes.

“It’s all about a love for learning,” said Cathy Kelly, director of the school.

She talked about how they brought in a zebra and a camel for a demonstration.

Abacus is on the higher end of pre-K environments, and the private school is funded through tuition alone, as opposed to the way the state provides funding for half-day pre-K for economically disadvantaged children.

Now Texas is preparing to invest more in children ages 3-5 in public schools. Lawmakers thus far aren’t debating whether the state will invest in pre-K, but how, and by how much?

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has a huge stake in the matter, as his first big educational proposal and his first emergency priority, a measure that could aim at proving that Republican leadership is able to make meaningful reform in public education.

Abbott’s plan is most closely encapsulated in House Bill 4 from state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and has tremendous backing. The bill would give more funding to schools that qualify to set up high quality pre-K.

However, the bill has been called incremental as it doesn’t come near restoring more than $200 million in pre-K grant funding removed back in 2011. Abbott’s plan will cost about $100 million. Another piece of pre-K legislation, HB 1100 from state Rep Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, and state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, would require full-day pre-K for the high quality programs and bring in double the cost to spend around $300 million.

“Gov. Abbott has laid out a vision to make Texas first in the nation in education, and that begins by building a strong foundation in early education with the goal of ensuring all students are performing at grade level in reading and math by the time they finish the 3rd grade,” Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, wrote in statement.

HB 4 also has the backing from the Texas Association of Business.

“It’s very important because too many of our kids arrive at kindergarten not ready to learn,” TAB President Bill Hammond said.

Such an investment can help cover workforce skills gaps in the future.

“Not enough students are coming out of high school that are career- or college-ready,” Hammond said.

An effective solution

Texas began offering pre-K publicly in 1985. There are 1,047 school districts and charter schools offering a prekindergarten program, and 504 of them are full day.

Advocates for pre-K say that the program is more than a day care and that children without pre-K are less likely to catch up in kindergarten, that in the long term there are fewer high school dropouts, and that the soft skills help children throughout their lives.

The issue of putting more resources into pre-K got started in the campaign season, with both Abbott and his opponent, former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, of Fort Worth, emphasizing education in their campaigns.

“The beauty of prekindergarten, as opposed to many other education initiatives, is there is such a good amount of credible research that establishes its benefits,” said Holly Eaton, the director of professional development and advocacy for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. “That’s why the Legislature has funded it, at least half-day, knowing of its importance.”

A day of pre-K at Abacus starts as early as 6:30 a.m. with early morning activities, a morning snack, group time, gym or music and movement play, literary and writing study, such as letter study, and shared reading and writing. The afternoon at Abacus as a full-day school includes art studio, time in the computer lab or library, science and social studies, math and exercise on the playground.

Of particular importance is that pre-K helps close the “word gap,” where by the time children in wealthy families are 3 years old, they’ve been exposed to 30 million more words than those in low-income households, Eaton said.

Catherine Murphy, an Austin mother whose child recently went to Abacus, said she has seen pre-K work. Her son is now in first grade, and she said he adapted well when kindergarten rolled around. He had no problem rising early, sitting quietly or doing work, she said.

“I would be totally for getting a child into education sooner rather than later,” Murphy said. “To have him in a school rather than a day care is really important.”

Scott Elliff, a retired school superintendent in South Texas, said pre-K is a tool that helps bridge equality gaps in general.

“Especially when you’re talking about student populations that are high poverty … I think it’s absolutely an essential part of our programming,” Elliff said. “The way our state accountability system is set up, everybody by the third grade needs to pass the same tests.”

He said full-day kindergarten not only helps with more instruction for children, but it also helps families in which parents can’t take off work to pick up their children from a half-day program.

Dollars that Count

A major difference between Huberty’s HB 4 bill and Johnson’s HB 1100 bill is how much funding would go to pre-K.

For now public schools in Texas get half-day pre-K funding to the tune of $3,650 per eligible student.

Under HB 4 districts could opt in and get up to $1,500 per student, Huberty’s office has said in a release.

Under Johnson’s HB 1100, schools could get another $3,650, essentially doubling the allotment for students.

Johnson argued that, because more students might be eligible in HB 4, the amount going to students in HB 4 would likely be watered down to more like $650 per student for the 185,000 students who may be eligible.

Johnson compared the situation to the hypothetical of giving everyone a dollar out of a million dollars, or targeting a million dollars at a specific project, like a library.

“It doesn’t really accomplish a whole bunch,” Johnson said of HB 4.

Johnson’s HB 1100, meanwhile, would require a plan for more teacher assistant training and teacher development, class size limits, and most significantly, a full day.

For a district to qualify under HB 4, it would need to fully align what they teach with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and measure their progress to meet the goals of those guidelines.

Teachers would need to be certified, and individual districts would need to make a plan to engage parents and keep families highly involved in the student’s education.

“One of the goals of this program: make sure that every kid in the state of Texas gets money,” Huberty told a panel of lawmakers this month.

At the moment the major challenge to HB 4 is HB 1100, the bill offering full-day pre-K in its high quality requirements. Most of the House Democrats are signed onto HB 1100.

Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson called HB 4 a modest proposal, and the director of the University of Texas’ Texas Politics Project has called the program a “minimalist approach,” in an opinion piece.

A statement from Abbott’s office bristled against any idea that Abbott isn’t serious about the issue.

“Governor Abbott placed early education at the forefront of his agenda by declaring it his first emergency item during his State of the State address, and is actively working with the Legislature to ensure his proposals are adopted to build a brighter future for Texas children,” Chassé said in a statement.

Hammond, with the business association, said he supports HB 4 because of the lesser cost. Huberty has also raised concerns that some school districts won’t be able to participate because they don’t have the room or capacity for full-day pre-K.

“It’s a decision that has to be made at the local level,” Johnson said in defense of HB 1100 before a House panel. He said that school districts could partner with private entities for the space, and that “there is a whole panoply of options.”

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